Honestly thinking (& rethinking) about God, the universe, and everything in between

The Amazing, Stupendous Miracle of the Yellow #2 Pencil

(Part Two of “Hearing God’s Voice”)

We’ve, of course, heard the stories of God speaking to people through miraculous visions, thunderous sounds from above, a talking donkey, the appearance of a mysterious hand writing on a wall, or a burning bush. 

Well, I’m here to tell you about a time God spoke to me through the amazing, stupendous means of…a yellow #2 pencil.

Yeah, that sounds a bit underwhelming in comparison, doesn’t it?

But the thing is, this little “miracle” story changed my life.

Now, even though it happened over a decade ago, I confess I’ve been hesitant to share it publicly because:

A) I’ve written frequently in the past (such as here and here) how we need to reexamine what we mean by “miracles.” Miracles are not supernatural because there is nothing more natural to the world than God and God’s activity. Miracles are simply something beyond our comprehension or ability.

B) I think miracle stories are often overused. Sure they can be exciting as they encourage faith and hope for an extraordinary life, but they often set people up for disappointment and potential damage to their faith when they don’t get their own “miracle.” While I do believe what we label as the “miraculous” has and still can occur, the truth is that an “ordinary life” is much more common throughout one’s years on this earth (and often underappreciated).

C) My little story seems small and silly on its face. Of course, I would love to share a miracle story about how I was flying over Africa when my plane crashed, but God sent an angel to miraculously protect me during the crash and from a den of hungry lions and a horde of killer monkeys, but that is not what happened here. Yet it did, as mentioned earlier, change my life and my perspective on hearing God’s voice.

“You know my voice, you know my voice, you know my voice.” 

I shared in Part One of this series how hearing God’s voice is as essential to life as water and that our failure to listen to that voice is at the root of all our problems. I also shared how I believe God speaks frequently and continuously to all of us, but we don’t listen because of fear or shame and because we don’t know how to recognize God’s voice.

Jesus once told a gathering of people, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27, CSB). The CEV version even translates the first part as, “My sheep know my voice.” This should be quite comforting to Jesus’ followers who are assured they know his voice. Yet I, like so many Christians, still had frequent doubts about this.

Scripture also tells us, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, CSB). Note that it does not say “might be given” but “will be given”…and “generously.” Now that sounds like a God whose voice is quite clear. In fact James’ letter goes on to say that anyone who doubts this is “double-minded and unstable.” They are “like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6-7, CSB).

I had come to Christ years prior after hearing God’s voice and had since then made several life-altering choices based on that voice; but I can also say there were plenty of times where I didn’t listen or was too scared to follow through. Is this all in my head? What if I get it wrong? Does the God of the universe even bother to speak to little old me? What if it’s some other kind of “voice” that’s speaking?

I was certainly one being tossed by the wind.

Yet, even amongst my most anxious doubts, God kept bringing me back to those verses about the sheep knowing Christ’s voice and the promise to give wisdom – several times assuring me in the most gentle but corrective way, “Come on, Steve. You KNOW my voice.”

Thus, I developed a mantra for myself whenever the doubts became too strong, repeatedly uttering those very words over myself:

“You know my voice, you know my voice, you know my voice.” 

Or if I was extra struggling and just trying to convince myself:

“I know your voice, I know your voice, I know your voice.”

All of this is not to say there are no false voices out there (and I will cover that in a future post), but simply to say that those who have entered into an authentic relationship with God through Christ really do know the voice of our creator – we just don’t always trust it. As a former pastor of mine used to say, “You know in your knower.”

So now, onto the pencil.

My little pencil moment was a full-fledged crisis of faith.

I was sitting up in bed late one Sunday morning like I usually did, attempting to do my “quiet time” and sabbath rest…Bible open in my lap (but likely barely read), as anxious thoughts swirled about in my head like a surging sea.

I needed answers…and I wasn’t getting them. And this had been going on too long.

When suddenly I heard the voice clear as a bell – as clear as I’d ever heard it before.

“Steve, I want you to write something down.”

“Okay, God. But with what? I’ve got my journal here, but I forgot to grab a pen. And I’m all settled here and really don’t want to have to get up and get one from another room” (You can see how lazy…and perhaps obstinate…I was).

“With the yellow pencil right beside your bed.”

And at that moment God even gave me a picture in my head of a yellow #2 pencil in a specific spot, pointing in a specific direction, on the bedside table next to my bed.

Now let me pause to point out two problems with this whole scenario here. #1, I was quite certain there were no writing utensils on my bedside table. I typically didn’t keep one there and I had zero memory of having placed one there.

And, #2, I knew for a fact there were no # 2’s…#2 yellow pencils that is. To understand this, you’ve got to understand my wife. Anyone who knows her knows that she does not like the usual. She distastes it, and that includes yellow pencils. We had #2 pencils alright because our kids absolutely needed them for school. But yellow? No way! They are way too standard…too boring. Everyone else might have yellow, but we had red ones and blue ones and green ones – anything but plain ol’ everyday yellow #2s.

I, therefore, knew for a fact that there were no yellow #2 pencils in our house. I didn’t recall ever seeing one. And I knew with absolute certainty there was no yellow pencil on my bedside table. 

I refused to even look.

“God, I really want to trust you on this, but you clearly don’t understand. There is no yellow pencil there for me even to pick up.”

“You know my voice.”


To help you understand my frustration here and why such a little moment was causing such a predicament, you have to know the significance of this voice.

The voice I was hearing in that very moment was that same exact voice that called me to faith.

It was the same exact voice that caused me to give up my dreams of “Hollywood” and dedicate my entire future career toward media ministry.

…the same exact voice that called my newly married bride and I to leave our families of origin and move across the country to go to grad school for film and theology.

…the same exact voice that propelled me, after seven long years, to quit that very grad school (just two hours short of two Masters degrees), quit my full time job, and move my wife and kids back across the country with absolutely no future job lined up, no health insurance, or official place to live…because God told us to.

Now everything amazingly worked out (which is a whole other story), but here’s the deal: if I turned my head to look at the side table now, there was going to be one of only two possibilities: 

Either a yellow #2 pencil would surprisingly be there – in which case we would have a genuine, hallelujah miracle (I imagined God then having me write down something extremely profound with the pencil – as in Ten Commandments kind of profound – which would, in turn, radically change the world)….

…OR there would be no pencil at all – in which case it would mean I was crazy, I didn’t actually know God’s voice, and my entire faith walk (with all I’d put my family through) was a sham.

My little pencil moment was a full-fledged crisis of faith.

“Okay, God. Here goes nothing. I know your voice, I know your voice, I know your voice.”

I turned my head and…

…no pencil. 

No writing utensil of any sort. Nothin’.

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Needless to say, I left my little “quiet time” not encouraged, but defeated.

Was God mocking me now? Or was it just some kind of coincidence?

The rest of the day, I kept this whole incident to myself, not wanting to bring my family down by admitting that my entire life for the last 20+ years was a total sham.

I went about my day taking care of various chores. After all, what’s the point in practicing a Sabbath rest if there is no God…at least not one that talks to you.

Eventually, I made my way back to the bedroom where I found my wife resting. And surprisingly sitting next to her on my side of the bed, was also my daughter, busy doing her homework. This was extremely unusual because I’d never seen her do her homework there before. She usually had her own specific spot in her own bedroom. But today she randomly decided to do her work in our room.

And then I saw it…in her hand.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“Get what?” she replied.

“The yellow pencil.”

“I dunno. I just had it.”

Was God mocking me now? Or was it just some kind of coincidence? Meh, didn’t matter. It wasn’t in that spot on the side table anyway.

Half annoyed and half amused by this silly little “coincidence,” I soon departed to complete other tasks around the house, trying my best to put it out of mind.

Eventually, I returned to the bedroom. This time, my wife and daughter were no longer there, but my daughter’s open textbook and papers remained laid out on the bed. Noticeably absent, however, was the pencil. Had I imagined the pencil in her hand earlier?

That can’t be. She had to have something in her hand to write with. 

And then it occurred to me. Could it be? 

My eyes quickly darted over to the bedside table and…

…nothing…no pencil in the spot…the one I clearly had only imagined.

But just before I left, I glanced down at my feet. And there it was. 

I reached down to pick up the yellow pencil that was continuing to laugh at me. Could I? I needed to place that pencil somewhere. Should I?

Nah, I wasn’t about to force God’s hand. If He wanted it in that spot, He was going to have to do it Himself. And so I placed the pencil in the center of the open textbook on the bed, and I left.

I still had one last routine, one last act of faith.

Our church meets in the evening, so I headed off from there with my family to hang out with fellow parishioners who also believed in this ultimate sham, never letting on that I was practically an atheist now.

Somehow I managed to pull it off, putting on the fake smile and doing all the counterfeit motions necessary for worshiping a “god” who pretends to be intimate and serves up imaginative visions of pencils that aren’t real.

After returning home, I even managed to continue the charade as I did the usual routine of reading my younger boys their night time stories followed by Bible readings before sending them off to bed.

But before I went to bed myself, I still had one last routine, one last act of faith  – to pray silently over my kids after they were asleep. 

Could I? Should I? Does it do any good?

After deliberating for some time, my decision was made. My kids were simply too important to me for my “new atheism” to get in the way of completing what I considered the most influential task of a parent. My current lack of faith just wasn’t worth the risk.

So into the darkened room of my boys’ bedroom I traipsed, plopped onto my knees, and silently prayed – prayed that the God whose voice I had heard so long ago would watch over them and keep them safe…that He would give them wisdom for each day ahead…and that they would one day know that voice as intimately as I once did.

After several minutes of this I opened my eyes and paused for a moment of stillness. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness around me, I eventually looked down. There before me, directly in front of my knees was…you guessed it…

…the yellow #2 pencil.

Instead of shock this time, I merely thought, It figures.

And instead of the pencil laughing at me, I was laughing to myself.

God certainly has a unique sense of humor.

From there I picked up the pencil, rose, and strolled to my bedroom.

There again, next to my wife on the bed, sat my daughter with the textbook open in her lap.

“This yours?” I asked.

She glanced around her to both sides, lifting her textbook and checking underneath her.

“I guess so,” she replied.

“How did it get into the boys’ bedroom?”

“I dunno.”

“You think Jewel (our dog) carried it there?”

She hunched her shoulders.

I slowly handed her the pencil, fully expecting her to use it to fill out more of her homework.

But instead she thankfully received it, reached over…and placed it on my bedside table, in the exact same spot, in the precise direction that I had envisioned that morning.

A half knowing smile slowly crept up on my face, as though I had just received the biggest of winks.

“You know my voice, you know my voice, you know my voice.”

This is Part Two of my series on “Hearing God’s Voice.” To be clear, my yellow pencil experience did not suddenly remove all doubts and struggles with hearing God’s voice. I still have plenty of times where God seems silent or where I question whether it’s God or me speaking. I also don’t consider myself extra skilled at hearing God’s voice, nor that I have some kind of magic formula to present. As I’ve already stated, I believe God speaks continually to everyone – we just don’t always know how to recognize or trust it. 

Instead, the yellow pencil experience helped to give me what I call a “stupid” kind of faith, trusting that God speaking to us is a reality even when it doesn’t seem like it and causing me to search diligently for more answers about what it all means. In future articles I will explore the obstacles we encounter to hearing God’s voice as well as what it actually sounds like – something very different than we think.

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1 Comment

  1. Kathleen Hawkins

    Thanks for the reminder that God whispers and has a wonderfully awesome sense or humor too!

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